Category Archives: How-to

Guides to building props or using certain techniques and materials

Casting a Rubber Hammer

Casting a Rubber Hammer

I recently came across the Brick in the Yard Mold Supply YouTube Channel, which has well over a hundred videos on molding, casting and finishing techniques. I started off by watching this one on casting a rubber hammer. Brick in the Yard has been selling molding, casting and special effects supplies out of their shop in Texas since the mid-nineties, and their collection of videos give an in-depth look on how to use a lot of them. So check it out:

Video: One-piece silicone block mold

Video: One-piece silicone block mold

You may have noticed I did not post much last week, and that this blog has become a little more sporadic over the past few months. Well, there is good reason for that. Last Thursday, my wife gave birth to our first son. It’s the best prop we’ve ever made.

Speaking of props, I shot a quick video on making a one-piece block mold from Alumilite QuickSet silicone rubber (the kind you can pick up at many hobby chain stores) that I’ve been meaning to put up. It’s not pretty, but it shows off the basics and gets the job done.

King's crown

Making of a King

Our last show of the season at Triad Stage is All’s Well That Ends Well, a Shakespeare piece I had worked on before (you may recognize the cannon I built for the previous production at Shakespeare in the Park). There were no cannons this time around, but we did need a crown for the King of France. Since Shakespeare isn’t our typical shtick, we did not have any crowns in stock. I had to make one.

Brass bar
Brass bar

The base of the crown was a piece of one-inch wide brass bar that was 3/16″ thick. I ordered a long piece of it from McMaster Carr in case I messed up and had to make another one.

Ring bender
Ring bender

I ran it through a cheap little ring bender from Harbor Freight. It’s small, but it can handle metal up to an inch wide, so I was golden. I covered the brass bar in tape because the wheels on the bender marred up the soft metal. The bender made a nice circle, but since the crown was actually an oval, I had to do some shaping by hand to get it just right.

Solder paste
Solder paste

I had some stamped brass fleurs-de-lis which I needed to solder on. I discovered “solder paste”, which is a mixture of flux and powdered solder in a liquid form. You just squirt it into the joints you want to be soldered and then run a torch over it until it melts.

Soldering with a propane torch
Soldering with a propane torch

Since the solder paste has a very low melting temperature, I could use a regular propane torch from any hardware store. Brass has a very low melting temperature, and since the fleurs-de-lis were very thin, I was worried that any kind of brazing or silver soldering would melt them before it melted the solder. The solder paste was a great solution.

Upholstery tacks
Upholstery tacks

Next I added some decorative upholstery tacks to the crown. I drilled some holes for the tack part to stick through. At first, I thought I could solder them on from the back, kind of like plug welding. That wasn’t working, so I just soldered them from the front. I was using this giant piece of aluminum tube as a heat sink so that the torch would not de-solder the pieces I had already soldered.

Moleskin Lining
Moleskin Lining

I was able to remove all of the charring and discoloration with some #000 steel wool. I lined the inside of the crown with moleskin, a very thin but soft padding. You can find self-adhesive pads of it in any drugstore near the foot pads and shoe inserts.

King's crown
King’s crown

I think you can get the solder paste in a copper or brass color; I was going to cover up all the silver bits of solder with some brass craft paint, but they didn’t show up once the crown was on stage. I think I look pretty good as a king.

Fake tree branch

Fake Tree Branches

We have a production of Brother Wolf currently running out in Winston-Salem. One of the props they needed were some tree branches which they were doing some choreography with. So they needed to be light-weight and safe around the actors. We decided to go with pool noodles over an aluminum pole, coated in cheesecloth and glue. I sent a photo of the following sample over to Howard Jones, the scenic designer, and got approval.

Tree branch sample
Tree branch sample

The two full-size branches were made by the assistant props master, Lisa Bledsoe (I merely took the pictures). She started by bending the poles to match what was drawn, and adding a few extra branches. They were bolted on since we do not have an aluminum welder at the shop.

Foam and structure
Foam and structure

She adhered the separate pieces of pool noodle together with spray foam, which also filled the gaps. Once it had cured, she set to shaping the foam using a mix of knives and an angle grinder with an abrasive flap wheel.

Carving the shape
Carving the shape

Once the branches were properly shaped, she painted on the cheesecloth with a 50/50 mix of Elmer’s Glue and water. I should mention that the branches got a quick coat of grey primer, since the cheesecloth is fairly translucent, and we did not want pink trees.

Coated
Coated

Once everything was dry, our scenic painter, Jessica Holcombe, gave the final paint treatment. It was a weathered grey wood, with a thin white wash over top. It matched all the wood elements in the scenery, so it was easier to just have her do the branches as well, rather than having us try to match it.

Fake tree branch
Fake tree branch

Overall, they worked pretty well. They are far lighter than a real tree branch, and they won’t hurt an actor if they accidentally make contact. There are a few spots at the tips where the pool noodle extends past the aluminum pole, and we found they were cracking at those points; a few times during the run, we had to glue on a “bandage” of cheesecloth to repair those cracks. Other than that, I thought they were a great solution.